Mueller was a small-time worker in the city of Audis. Born in the capital, he had been busy working throughout most of his life and married a good-looking wife. He and his wife had been blessed with a pair of lovely children recently.
From an outsider’s point of view, Mueller was definitely among the privileged in Shalor.
However, he didn’t think so himself.
His greenish-purple nose drew in a breath of cold air. Mueller and a group of other working-class Shalorian commoners gathered at the gate of the market in Audis.
All of them were here to get subsidies and grants. The city had been under siege for almost a month. Without the import of external resources, many people in this city had starved to death. If it were not for the great mercy of the nobles, who graciously aided the citizens fighting for their survival, the city would've broken into chaos.
After what felt like an eternity, a huge stone gate in the market slowly opened, and a group of Shalorians civilians immediately charged.
"Disperse! Disperse!" A whole team of Shalorian soldiers with big waists brandished their pikes to drive away these overzealous civilians.
There was only one platoon of Shalorian soldiers versus thousands of civilians. How could they keep them in their place?
The famished civilians weren’t bothered by the sharp weapons the soldiers carried and blocked the way, even before the stone door could fully open.
"Stop!" An ear-shattering, impetus-amplified shout left some of the nearby Shalorians covering their bloody ears in pain.
It had to be a high-rank Knecht. In fact, he had such perfect control of impetus, that he had to be an elite among high-rank Knechts.
The scene quickly erupted into chaos, as the agitated civilians in front were still unable to enter, yet hordes of people were shoving them from behind.
With a few swift slices of his longsword, the high-rank Knecht took out the antsiest of the civilians and put a stop to the commotion.
It took a shiny sword and bloodshed to get the starving group of civilians to calm down
The Shalorian Knecht stared coldly at the group of civilians in front of him. All the civilians who met his gaze lowered their heads. They had no doubt that under the armour hid a murderous demon.
The stone door was completely opened, revealing a long convoy. Each horse was pulling a wooden cart carrying a pile of potatoes and rice potatoes half a human tall.
Every civilian who caught sight of the food couldn’t help but lick their lips and gulp.
Food distribution proceeded in an orderly manner. Having witnessed the consequences, no one dared to start another ruckus.
From the air, it looked like many ants were gathering in six spots!
Mueller was fortunate enough to have the foresight to queue not too far forward and not too far behind, sparing him from the earlier trouble.
As he watched the amount of food decreasing as the people in front of him claimed their share, his anxiety grew.
When it was finally his turn, there were less than two racks of food left.
Someone front of him was pleading with the soldiers who were distributing food, "Please, please give me another piece. I have a six-year-old child to raise."
This person was an elderly man who had a typical northern accent.
The soldier who had given him food was a young man. He was rather flustered by the old man begging him for food.
He was probably a recruit, Mueller guessed. A veteran would never have shown any kindness; in fact, they would’ve taken pleasure in beating him up.
"Stop wasting time! Do you want it or not?" While the young soldier was thinking of what to do, a non-commissioned officer next to him, who looked like his squad jarl, grabbed the potato from the civilian’s hand and tossed it aside.
The desperate eyes of the other civilians eagerly jumped in the direction of the flying potato.
The man in front of Mueller gave up trying to negotiate with the soldiers. He crawled about desperately clawing at the potato. This was the food for him and his son today. He had to find it, or let the two of them starve.
It was Mueller’s turn. Unlike the man before him, he didn’t make any extraordinary requests. All he politely said to the soldier was, "One potato please, thank you!"
Either due to his Audisian accent or his friendly attitude that left a good impression on the soldier, he ended up with a slightly larger than average potato.
With his potato in hand, he didn’t stay for much longer and left in a hurry.
There was not much food left, but half of the queue had yet to get theirs. There was definitely going to be a scene later.
After Mueller had barely walked two hundred meters, a cacophony of noises and yells began, accompanied by the screams of the injured people from a wooden cart crashing.
Mueller quickened his pace and left this messy place.
The advantages of being a local in the capital were starting to shine through. After three detours and five rounds around the city, Mueller managed to shake off the starving civilians following him who were so malnourished they were nothing more than skin and bone.
He was making his way back to his house in the southwest corner of the city. Most of the people staying in the large rows of low-rise houses there were born and raised in Audis.
This place was relatively close to the palace. Most people wouldn’t have any means of getting a house here.
Mueller kept a watchful eye on the corpses laid out in front of the house. Not all of the fallen were his neighbours; some were other war casualties.
In many occupied areas, a large number of nobles and civilians poured into the city of Audis before the siege began. This city, which originally had 120,000 inhabitants, now had 150,000 after the refugee wave.
Yet every day, more and more civilians were starving to death.
For example, Mueller's neighbour was a kind 40-year-old man who had remained unhitched all his life. He had taken in a child that had come to him a few days earlier as a refugee, only to be robbed by the other vagabonds that had come with him, beaten up and thrown out of the house. The child had been driven away by the group of scum, and the two of them were left still picking up food in the city.
Had it not been for Mueller and his fellow neighbours fending off the outsiders, they would’ve been targeted long ago.
However, those good times didn’t last long. More and more refugees from other places were starting to pour in. These people were starving every day and couldn't do anything. They just lied there like corpses, staring at people passing by with their protruding eyes. The sight of them made people shudder.
Mueller had seen so many of them that he wasn’t afraid of them. However, he didn’t want to agitate them either. He hid the food he had just received and walked past the refugees lying on the ground.
He even accidentally stepped on a certain hapless guy, who let out a piercing scream.
He walked to a pale wooden door and knocked on the plank blocking the window. After a while, a squinting face appeared and relaxed.
“Bob, open the door!” Mueller smiled at the child inside.
The 40-square-metre cottage only had one bedroom and a kitchenette. Mueller’s family of four was crammed into this small house.
He put the potato he received in a wooden bowl in the kitchen. His wide-eyed children leaned on either side of Mueller. They knew that this was their meal for the day. The two little ones were drooling.
Soon, his wife Betty came back, a woman of similar build to Mueller.
Betty didn't have the squeamishness of a southern woman. When the two met, Mueller immediately fell for her. She came to work in the royal capital, ever the cheerful spirit and hard worker like any of the other men.
In the end, he stood out among many of her suitors as a local with a house and got the girl of his dreams.
She gave him a son six years ago and a daughter four years ago. The family should have lived happily ever after, but alas, things were not always as they are supposed to be.
Betty, who just returned home, took off her jacket and took out a palm-sized potato. There was only one coat at home. Mueller had left it behind for his wife to use. He could deal with the harsh weather.
"Lucky me, I managed to grab a potato," Betty said relaxedly. Years of hardship have left her, a former beauty in her younger days, with deep wrinkles and dry hands.
Betty was very skinny due to the lack of food. No one could tell that she was already a mother of two.
Betty got the potato from another food counter. In order to prevent chaos, the nobles had different counters for men and women.
Just because Betty’s side was all women didn’t mean they were any better-behaved. On the contrary, it was even wilder over there.
Shalorian soldiers could unleash their wrath on men like Mueller, but they rarely laid a finger on the women. No matter how bloodthirsty they were, soldiers had a sense of pride too -- even if they weren’t able to beat the Faustians on the front line, they wouldn't sink to the level of attacking the women of their own country.
It was absolute pandemonium at the women's counters. A group of women were fighting tooth and nail, and the soldiers could do very little to stop them.
Betty took advantage of her height and strength to snatch a potato at the cost of a few scratches and bruises on her arm. The women had it just as rough as the men.
"Looks like we have a little more to eat today," said Mueller with a forced smile. He then went to get medicinal liquor for Betty. It's been messy outside recently, so they kept a reserve of medicinal supplies at home just in case.
Betty started preparing their dinner: a simple mashed potato stew with sprinkles of salt and vegetable crumbles, a supreme delicacy for commoners.
Feeling the wound on her arm, her husband carefully rubbed the alcohol on her wound. She felt really tranquil.
Although she didn't lead the most blessed life with this man, she had no complaints. She was a cheerful person, but these days, even the brightest of people couldn't shine.
After eating, the family laid down on a wooden bed. Mueller and Betty put the two children between them to sleep. The scarcity of food made the family dare not waste any energy. Apart from going out to collect food, they were holding their children to sleep at home.